Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Religious Lace

Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won't be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple. Stay clear of pious talk that is only talk. Words are not mere words, you know. If they're not backed by a godly life, they accumulate as poison in the soul.
2 Timothy 2:15-18 (Message)

By nature, I am a very practical, logical, and realistic person, which is part of the reason why I never fit into the Word of Faith mold. I do not like to waste my words, and I do not like being in a position where I have to listen to someone who does. I firmly believe in the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln when he said that it is "better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt." When I am not an authority on a situation I know how to keep my mouth shut. However, there are some who don't.

A minister should take his job or "calling" very seriously. He has a captive audience of people who have technically paid admission to be there with their tithes and offerings. The people in our former church were earnestly seeking guidance from God for their daily lives. These people were often in a vulnerable state and faced seemingly insurmountable problems. They were taught that talking about their problems was a "bad confession," and were ashamed to admit that they were depressed, lonely, physically sick, or financially insecure, just to name a few. So these people would gather for church services, ready to hear something that they believed would help them. Not only were they presented with false doctrine, they were also infused with mega doses of vain, useless, and idle talk. (2 Timothy 2:15 Amp)

Years ago, our former church seemed good, with solid teaching from the Bible. It was edgy, which is part of why we liked it. We haven't been able to totally put our finger on what went wrong, but the church took a bad turn somewhere along the way. The pastor and his family did not have much in the way of material things in the beginning, so I believe that at the time, they were probably really using their faith in their daily lives, and the teaching reflected that. Over a period of years, as the church grew, they began to have more money, power, and "prestige,"(self-perceived). The whole Word of Faith network is actually quite political. We watched it firsthand. We were subjected to teaching from ministers who were in error. We went to the pastor several times about one in particular and told him about our concerns. He said that he was a renowned old time minister, and that he would continue to have him come and preach. He did continue to have him in, and the guy continued with his false teaching and just general weird stuff. The pastor told us to just take what was good and "spit out the sticks." I could not understand why we had to listen to a message that had sticks in it.

As the pastor began to prosper, we had to endure hearing about all his new toys and acquisitions. His motorcycle, his new house, his personal gym, his fancy suits and ties, and "his" airplane. He also elaborated on his extravagant vacations and boring hunting trips. Stories about all these things began to filter into his teaching to the point that material possessions became his focus. Tithes and offering were also emphasized more than ever, and the impression was given to everyone that if they tithed, they could experience this same kind of "good life." When the leader loses sight of what the Bible truly teaches, so do the people in the church.

Another trait of the Word of Faith type church is the use of "spiritual fluff." It comes in many forms. One of the most annoying to me is the use of catch phrases throughout the teaching. Some of them are:

"Don't shout me down just 'cause I'm preachin' real good."

"I'm preaching a whole lot better than you're amen-ing".

"Don't look at me in that tone of voice."

I am naming only a few of the many phrases we have heard. As you can see from these, they are often boastful and self-serving. And to me, they have never been funny. I would look around at people who actually would continue to laugh after years of hearing this stuff and wonder what the heck was wrong with them. It is just all part of the control and peer pressure. If you didn't laugh, even if what was said was stupid or crude, you were perceived as having a bad attitude.

Another form of spiritual fluff is used as a filler, so to speak. Constantly saying,"Praise the Lord," "Isn't God good?" "Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah," "Glory to God," "Well, amen," among many others. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with making these statements, but I began to recognize that these phrases were used in a meaningless way in an attempt to spiritualize the words of the speaker. The Message Bible calls it "religious lace."

Matthew 5:33-37 in the Message says:
33-37 "And don't say anything you don't mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, 'I'll pray for you,' and never doing it, or saying, 'God be with you,' and not meaning it. You don't make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say 'yes' and 'no.' When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong."

The longer we were there, and closer we got to the inner workings of that church, the more we realized that these words were meaningless because they were not backed up by action. I do believe that God desires for us to be comfortable and enjoy material possessions. There is a way to do that without becoming obsessed with it.

I Timothy 6:17-20 in the Message says:
17-19 Tell those rich in this world's wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they'll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.
20-21 And oh, my dear Timothy, guard the treasure you were given! Guard it with your life. Avoid the talk-show religion and the practiced confusion of the so-called experts. People caught up in a lot of talk can miss the whole point of faith.

- V